At Philadelphia (Thursday)
Key Decision #1: (ATL ball/Score 0-0/fourth-and-goal, PHI 1/Opening drive)
• Coming into this game, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn had to know that these two teams are fairly evenly matched, especially after a close playoff loss to the same team in the same venue in the 2017 postseason. Therefore, Quinn had to know that points would be at a premium, especially against a talented Eagles defense playing at home in front of a charged-up crowd.
• The Falcons’ opening drive was a good one – exactly what is needed on the road against a talented opponent, just after the emotion of raising a Super Bowl championship banner.
• The Falcons moved the ball to the Eagles’ 1-yard line and faced a fourth-and-goal. Instead of taking a quick 3-0 lead, gaining some confidence, and keeping the emotional advantage, Falcons Quinn decided to go for the TD. The play was stuffed; the Eagles’ crowd was back in the game, and the Falcons players had to run back to their sideline with their heads down.
• The decision to pass up three points was the wrong one in our view; there was simply too much data to indicate that points would be at a premium in this game.
Key Decision #2: (ATL trails 18-12/first-and-goal at PHI 5/:01, 4Q)
• ATL had one play to win the game with one second left. This is a team that struggled in the red zone last year, and struggled with it again tonight. A winning TD here would do wonders, however, for the Falcons’ confidence.
• While most NFL fans understand that WR Julio Jones is an incredible talent, he and QB Matt Ryan simply have not had any connection in the red zone for quite some time.
• The play that was chosen, however, was a low-percentage fade to Jones, and it was defensed easily. We would have preferred something that either gave QB Matt Ryan more options or even something to the middle of the field – at least there, a deflection in the middle of a group of players might have fallen the Falcons’ way.
• The Falcons have clearly regressed under OC Steve Sarkisian. The play-calling is fairly predictable, there is not a lot of formation variety. It will take a lot of work for the Falcons to improve on offense, and particularly within the red zone, where they are among the worst in the league.
• While the play-calling on offense is poor, we like the performance of Falcons DC Marquand Manuel. We see him as a future NFL head coach candidate before long. The Falcons DL was physically overpowered after Q1; there was no pressure at all on Eagles QB Nick Foles after Q1. Manuel’s personnel in the DL group is inferior to the Eagles’ DL unit, but Manuel still performed well.
• Eagles HC Doug Pederson’s clock management in this game was poor. He wasted a potentially key timeout in Q4 as the Eagles faced a third-and-14, and on numerous occasions, the Eagles simply couldn’t break the offensive huddle with any consistency on the play clock.
• Pederson, however, made a good in-game adjustment when he found the inside runs were starting to work early into 4Q, and that led to a TD drive.
• Additionally, we liked Pederson’s utilization of back Darren Sproles in key moments. This is a good example of good personnel usage; even though Sproles is 35 years old, Pederson knows what he can do, especially in the big moments, and Sproles delivered consistently.
• Quinn never made any real in-game adjustment on offense. For example, it was very clear that the Falcons’ outside run game, especially off the toss play, was not working – the Eagles’ defense is very fast and the Falcons’ backs simply couldn’t get to the corner. We thought the Falcons might at least try to utilize the two-TE formation just a bit more and try to run it between the tackles, but they never really made the effort.
• The start of the game was delayed about an hour due to rain (almost 9 p.m. ET start), and the ball handling was difficult, probably due to the moisture.